Matthew 2:1-12 and Excerpts from Cosmos by Carl Sagan
Sunday January 8th, 2023
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome everyone again on this Epiphany Sunday and Happy New Year! It’s good to be together like this and four years ago today I started with you as your Pastor and so you might you know that I get nervous each time, which is why I ask that you pray with me and when we added the livestream that made me even more nervous because whatever we say is forever recorded, so I appreciate that you hold me that way.
So now I invite you to let yourself arrive a bit more fully to take some deep breaths, to give thanks for this day and the gift of being here together like this.
Gracious God, speak to each of us in ways that we can hear, and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock, and our Redeemer Amen.
They were warned in a dream. More dreams, that’s what we heard in that final line in this periscope in the Gospel of Matthew. And if you heard Jackie’s wonderful message last week about dreams, you know how she lifted up dreams of people all kinds of people and launched us into our own dreaming as a congregation and so it inspired me to start new sermon series on a new vision for an old faith and each week we will explore a different area. So thank you Jackie.
From my earliest memories, I was the sort of kid and am now the sort of person who looks for signs- in nature, in dreams, in people I meet, experiences I have. Maybe some of us are more inclined in this direction than others? But I find meaning in interactions that others see as mere coincidences; I pay attention to things like numbers and names and I suspect to some it’s silly, but to me it’s really about being open to direction, wisdom, possibilities coming from weird or unexpected places. To me, following signs is more about being open to things that don’t necessarily make sense, but they still somehow guide you and it is different for each of us. When I was discerning a call, doing a nationwide search, there were a couple of churches I got close with and it didn’t feel quite right. And oddly enough I have been guided by J names, first love Jesus, high school boyfriend Joe, college boyfriend Jeff, true love Jeremy. I got a call from Stan on the Search Committee in July of 2018 and I was like well he is not a “J” but then he said that the co-chair is John. And the moderator then was John T. and the incoming moderator was Janet.
And also 8’s, 8’s have been a sign in my life, Jeremy and I were married on 8/8/08 at 8 p.m. I have often been guided by these things, even silly things. Even when I toured the (CUCC) building, I noticed the white Correlle ware. I have that at home. Very practical. We have the same dishes!
I know these signs are different for each of us.
Our minds might conjure up images of extraordinary signs like that scene in the 1991, LA Story, with Steve Martin. He is an offbeat weatherman, a wacky weatherman. He’s going along with his life, he’s not really that happy, but he fakes it on TV. But then a freeway sign starts talking to him, it blasts light, and he ends up having to pullover and the sign gives him messages. And the final message, the character Harris gets is, “Sing Do Wah Diddy,” which was a pop song of no real importance. But the message was presented as a sign that the universe was telling him to stop living according to the critical logic in his head and to embrace the spontaneity of his heart!”1 I don’t know about you, but signs haven’t really worked quite that way for me, much less flashy, but still present. So, in the Gospel of Matthew, they were not just looking for signs, they got the signs, they had the star and the dream, but they were willing to respond, to follow. The sky was stuffed with stars, there was one certain star that they responded to.
As Frank Thomas wrote, “the star is a sign, a wonder, a revelation, a guidepost, a traffic light, a tracking device, and a global positioning system (GPS) that brings us to the point and place of divine revelation…”
And what really stands out for me when I read this story this year, is that signs are useless if we choose not to respond to them. Maybe the Universe keeps trying, maybe not? Do you think the Universe just keeps sending signs? Or at some point is it like I am moving on to someone who will listen?
And the other thing that stands out is that the star stops. I never got that before. It gets them to Jesus, to joy, in fact overwhelming joy, and then we don’t read of the star anymore. We read that they had to go home by a different way. Because they are warned of what could happen so they take another route, a different direction, an unfamiliar path and I wonder if part of what that means is that this time they didn’t have that external guidance? They didn’t have the star like they did before. As one scholar wrote, “The star led them to the child, (so) they no longer needed the star, because the function of the star was to bring them to the point of Divine revelation.”
I hadn’t noticed this before, I had missed this in the story, but it feels important, they get home without the star. Maybe it’s like that footprint in the sand kind of thing? I wonder if part of what this story is trying to tell us is that sometimes the stars, the signs we need come from within? Within our own bodies, hearts and minds, and within our communities of conscience and compassion? What if part of the answer, for some of our journey, is that the signs we are seeking, the stars we need are here? I believe with my whole being that we are capable of being holy messengers for ourselves and one another because we are manifestations of the sacred with the possibility of receiving insights from the other side so to speak. We like to see ourselves as separate from some of what is beyond our understanding, from the Divine, from the Great Mystery, but we are simply different expressions of those same materials. This feels important to say, especially right now. I believe that each of us is something like an expression of the Divine, of the Creator, of the Creative Force in our spectacular and complicated variety of human forms.
Because we humans are not also designed to be in awe of stars, but we are also partly stars ourselves. I love what Carl Sagan wrote, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing…” The cosmos is quite literally within us, which means we are Divine and the way each of us has been created is unrepeatable, the combination that made each of you, each of your atoms, will never be like this again. You are literally sacred, star stuff, a star burning bright in a way that will only burn here and now like this, which means you can be stars for one another. And the beauty that is in you, the way you are put together is just for this place and this time.
So the truth is they don’t really get home without the star, they get home by bringing that within each of them, by being stars for one another.
I have long loved the quote by the French Jesuit Priest, scientist, theologian, philosopher and teacher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Does that change anything for us? Would we treat one another differently if we looked around and saw one another as God with skin on?
It feels important to say all of this because it’s clear to me that many of us grew up with the idea that the framework for the Christian life and Christian faith begins not at our worthiness, our blessedness, our sacredness, but with our sinfulness, our unworthiness, our separateness. And while I believe it is important to acknowledge our failings, our shortcomings, and our shadow sides, I don’t believe that is the foundation of our existence, rather these are human constructions designed to control and to make some feel superior. What if the foundation for our faith is our divinity, our sacredness, the way each of us has been created is unique and unrepeatable, sacred expressions of the Divine?
What if our call then is to see ourselves as spiritual beings, open to signs coming from weird or unexpected places, which sometimes means from one another? And what if this story reminds us that signs are useless if we don’t choose to respond to them? And what if there comes a point in each of our stories, where it seems like the star has stopped, but really it just moved into each human heart, into our own lives in a deeper way? Beloved of God, you are sacred, you are star stuff, the signs are all around. May it be so. Amen.
©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche